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By Alan Reid

To confess, Guy de Cointet is an artist whose work I’ve unabashedly loved since first viewing. His is an easy-breezy theatrical stance, an art so seemingly light one is unlikely to find correlation in the art of the west. Therefore, I greet the current show of drawings from ‘70s and early-‘80s at Greene Naftali with opens arms. And this is a handsome show, despite minor pangs in seeing his paper sag, under-cared for, in several frames.

De Cointet is first and foremost a wordsmith. Whether written or performed, drawn or printed (these categories effortlessly overlap in his work), de Cointet’s project stems from words. The joy in this work (what other word will do, but joy?) resides in the delicacy of Cointet’s play with ideas. How often does a concept fade into vagueness, to seemingly disappear while we observe?

De Cointet’s poster-sized drawings are deceptively simple and are deserving of a lengthy theoretic exploration - someone take-up this call. Percept’s excellent online resource will whet the appetite. The drawings generally consist of a written component and graphic element. His text, poetic non-sequiturs, read like overheard conversations. They can sound like daytime television, like soap operas. There’s a deadpan beauty in them. One will encounter the sentences “Maria, is it true the Bucuses are the healthiest people on earth?” “I smoke all the time,” or, “I can’t wait, but first I’ve to wash my hands.”

These sentences have been meticulously inked in reverse, which complicates both the phenomenological and the theoretical reading of the drawings. The mirrored wording implies both the diaristic language of de Vinci, and a performance requiring a mirror. Art as prop is de Cointet’s world.

Alongside, on top or branching from the text is a modest but complex language of graphic embellishment that rivals manuscript illuminators: mechanical, tick-tock-ing graphic style; aerosol fades; miniature flecked polygons; and the flourishing, zigzagging text. Everything always seems a little mis-registered. There’s a pleasure in identifying the algorithm he’s using to illicit design and following as the rule dissolves.

De Cointet’s style is hard to pin down: there’s a hint of Matisse’s lyrical line drawing, a bit of the vaguely coarse design sense of Ettore Sottsass (primary colors and boxy draftsmanship), there’s utterly deconstructed Swiss modernisms at work and the influence of his friend Yves Saint Laurent is also visible. These visual references may help to define the look of his work, but to thoroughly ‘get at’ his sensibility, one must load and unload the references in his ribboning, sometimes overtly bubbly, handwriting; here de Cointet is transforming spoken language into text, and text into the basic shapes of typography - further de-familiarizing mirrored words.

Guy de Cointet’s drawings are smart, funny and elegant. If only this were the zeitgeist.

Note: Greene Naftali is producing three of Guy de Cointet’s one-person performances to coincide with this exhibition. The original actress Mary Ann Duganne Glicksman will play the parts.

Greene Naftali Gallery

"Guy de Cointet" is on view January 19 - February 14, 2009 at Greene Naftali Gallery, 508 W. 26th Street, NYC.

All images are courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali Gallery.


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